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The 1933 Double Eagle Twenty Dollar Gold Coin Printer Friendly   

The Story
The Forbidden Fruit of Coins: The Fabulous 1933 Double Eagle
By David Tripp

They shouldn't have been made in the first place.

The 1933 Double Eagles, nearly a half a million, were struck after President Franklin Roosevelt started to wean America off the Gold Standard, and after he had ordered the recall of all gold coins.  But even though they were struck they were never money.  Instead, they lay in storage deep within the vaults of the United States Mint, until they were all ordered destroyed in 1937.  But somehow a few escaped - they were stolen.

It had been an inside job - that was what the Secret Service determined.  But the theft hadn't even been noticed until 1944, when a keen-eyed newspaperman asked the Treasury Department some questions about a 1933 Double Eagle he had spotted in an upcoming Stack's coin auction.  The ensuing investigation quickly identified the alleged thief and his confederates, but the statute of limitations had passed, and they were beyond the reach of the law.

The coins however, were not.  They were stolen property - chattel - belonging to the United States Government.  Nine coins and their "owners" were identified during the Secret Service investigation: all were seized or surrendered - all but one - a half world away.

King Farouk of Egypt was a playboy and a spendthrift.  He was also a voracious collector of many things, among them: Imperial Faberge eggs, antique aspirin bottles, stamps - and coins.  In 1944 he bought a 1933 Double Eagle, and in strict adherence with the law, applied to the Treasury Department for an export license.  Mistakenly, just days before the Mint theft was discovered, the license was granted.  And so stolen property "legally" left the country.

The Government's efforts to retrieve the coin were slowed by a World War and subsequent diplomatic niceties - until 1954.  The deposed King's collection was offered at auction, in Cairo, by Sotheby's.  The United States government requested of the Egyptian government the removal of the coin from the auction and its return.  It's withdrawal was effected, but not its return - it disappeared into the mists of time.

Nearly a half century later a leading English coin dealer was arrested while trying to sell a 1933 Double Eagle to undercover Secret Service agents - the coin was seized.  In sworn depositions that followed it was said that this was Farouk's coin - but we will never really know for sure.  In January, 2001 after five years of litigation, a singular settlement was reached.  It acknowledged the United States right of ownership, but provided that this single example could be sold, and the title legally passed making it effectively unique.

The 1933 Double Eagle has, since the year of its creation, been the stuff of legend.  Made quite legally, it was illegal to own as soon as it was made.  It is the coin that shouldn't exist: but it does, and it has been tantalizing generations of collectors with no hopes of ownership - until now!


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